Advertising watchdogs have rejected complaints about an “offensive and racist” campaign by a controversial Christian organisation urging Jewish people to “think for yourself”.
Dozens of people, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, complained about the campaign by Jews for Jesus, a registered charity whose main goal is to convert Jewish people to the Christian faith.
One poster advert showed six Jewish men wearing hats and dark suits walking in front of a brick wall, one of them wearing a red T-shirt with the logo “Jews for Jesus”. The poster carried the headline “Think for yourself” and the Jews for Jesus website address and telephone number.
A press ad, which appeared in the Independent and Times newspapers, used the same image with the words, “Things aren’t always what they seem to be” and invited readers to send off for a free leaflet entitled “That’s Y Jesus Came”.
The Advertising Standards Authority said it had received 43 complaints that the adverts were “offensive and racist” towards Jewish people and stereotyped orthodox Jews as people who were unable to think for themselves.
Some claimed the ads depicted the western wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, one of the most important sites for the Jewish faith.
And they were particularly concerned that the poster adverts appeared in areas with a high Jewish population.
However, Jews for Jesus said it was a Jewish group seeking to address Jewish people.
The group argued the advertisements did not imply that orthodox Jews did not think for themselves – on the contrary, it said the campaign reversed stereotypes by demonstrating there could be diversity of opinion among Jews and Orthodox Jews, who could believe in Jesus if they chose to.
The Times said it carried advertisements for many religious organisations and had accepted the advertisement because Jews for Jesus was a registered charity and a recognised organisation.
The Independent acknowledged some people might find the advertisement provocative, but said it was suitable for its readers, who it argued were well educated and open minded.
The ASA ruled that, although they had offended some Jews by apparently mocking orthodox Jews as mindlessly following their faith, the advertisements were likely to be regarded by other Jews and by non-Jews as a “light-hearted caricature with a thought-provoking message”.
“The advertisements did not imply that Jews, and in particular orthodox Jews, could not think for themselves,” it continued, concluding the advertisements were “neither racist nor offensive to Jewish people”.